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Camping. I have been waiting for this episode for a long time. The first thing I can say is thank god it didn't happen on my season. Camping is not really in my blood. I grew up in New York City. We didn't camp. Camp for me was spending the summer away from my parents (well, basically being shipped off so they wouldn't have to deal with us) at some fancy sleep away camp in New England. I don't think I ever once spent a night under the stars, at least from what I can remember when I was a child. We slept in bunks. We rarely ate outside. We had dances in the mess hall. We went swimming, you know all the things that good little spoiled New Yorkers do during the summer, but we never slept in a tent. Not once. Then, as an adult ... I decided to tackle camping, for fun. Just to say I did it once. So I went out, bought hundreds of dollars of camping equipment and took off to camp. We basically ended up in someone's backyard sleeping by a river in Sonoma and all night I was terrified that a bear was going to eat me, or worse yet, Jason from Friday the 13th was going to axe me up into a million pieces. That was the first, and last, time I have ever gone camping ... I'll leave it to the professionals, or at the very least the chefs of Top Chef Vegas. I think if I were there, I would be more terrified of the tepees then the actual challenge.
Cactus. Oy. What a Quickfire. Well done loyal TC viewers. Way to throw a curveball at the chefs. I like that Bravo is letting the viewers choose the challenge for once. It seems to me after all the seasons the show has been on the air, that finally involving the audience is a good way to keep people interested. Cactus is a tough ingredient to work with and I think that given the challenge, the chefs did a great job. Mike Isabella's win unfortunately helped keep his ego in an inflated position where it's been pretty much all season. Laurine ... where did you come from? It's been four episodes so far and we have barely seen or heard anything from you, and then you end up on top twice? Well done girl; it's nice to see a different woman on top for once. However, on the flip side of that ... I guess I now understand why it may have been frustrating for you at home to watch me make the same thing a few times ... because watching Ron make fish again is starting to get really, really old. Not only is he making fish again, he is overcooking fish again .. .and I still cannot understand him! Where are those subtitles Bravo, huh? I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but does Mike V. seem a little down on himself this episode? I know that ending up in the bottom three even for a Quickfire really sucks, but he seems to be having a hard time with it, which I get, trust me. Being a passionate professional is really hard when you are competing on TC. But, just watching his interviews I am getting the feeling that something bad may happen. I think it'll be really interesting to see someone like him, who is clearly very, very gifted go home early. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the top players (in my eyes they are: the brothers V., Jenn, Kevin, and Mike I, but only sometimes) may get the big boot sometime very soon ... and it's going to throw quite a wrench into the game when folks like Robyn, Ron, and Mattin are still around.
Onto the elimination ... I for one know how hard it is to not know what to expect in terms of your cooking environment. When we did the farm challenge last season when I was on Team chicken, the entire car ride to the farm was Stefan saying, in a very heavy accent, "Where are we going? What are we doing? We are going to have to rub two sticks together. There won't be anywhere to cook. We are going to be stranded outside blah blah blah" I can't even begin to tell you how much I wanted to smack him in that car ride up to Stone Barns. I thought he would never shut up. I think Carla and I were ready to rip our hair out by the time we got there. It's an incredibly nerve-wracking place to be in when you are told to cook for two dozen people in an hour and a half with absolutely NO knowledge of what to expect. Then to be forced to spend the night in a tent? In the hot ass desert? No thanks ... hello scorpions, snakes, bugs? Ugh. That had to add to the stress of the challenge. Something to be said about challenges like this: they really are not a good testament to what kind of chef someone is. They are a way of showcasing who is versatile and ingenious and can think swiftly on their feet and make do with uneasy situations. That's why someone with a background in catering would do well on a challenge like this. On a daily basis as a caterer, you are thrown curveballs and you make do ... it's part of the gig and the reason I believe Laurine was so successful at this elimination.
Most of the food, in my opinion (remember I am entitled to these) looked boring. Bryan's dish looked solid and his pork looked perfectly cooked. I thought Jenn's dish sounded really interesting and I love her use of tomato water as an element, a perfect way to cool off in 110 degree desert heat. I also found the use of dashi by Mike V. to be a cool idea. On the other hand, the sandwiches made by Mike I. and Eli were easily something any cafeteria could have pumped out for lunch, and in turn seemed pedestrian to me. I thought Ashley's play on a BLT was cool, and I loved the idea of the braised lettuce. I always think it's cool when someone cooks lettuce, at least when it works .... Robin, I think you didn't do that technique so well and I feel for you when they said your shrimp tasted like chlorine ... that's never a good compliment. But, I gotta say, the worst offense was Mattin's. Dude, Tom spit out your food! I for one thought that was just a Padma/Ariane thing, but when Tom spits something out it cannot be good. Sorry buddy, I am sitting on the edge of my seat here because have no idea who got sent home. My guess would be Robin, but I think it could easily be a toss up between her and Mattin. As for the winner, I am leaning towards a woman this time ... and I hope that's true. It would be really nice to see a girl take one of these eliminations for once. I'm just glad I get to watch from the dust-free bug-free and murderer-free safety of my living room and didn't have to play along down on the ranch.
In response to some of the comments from last week's blog:
Yes, I am still the executive chef at Absinthe in SF. You can check out our Web site here: www.absinthe.com. Yes, Stefan and I are actually still very good friends. In fact I saw him two weeks ago in L.A. at his new restaurant ... and I agree that we did have some really great banter, at least the times I could understand him. Finally, no, I am not single.
Keep the comments coming! I'll do my best to answer them each week ... and follow me on Twitter if you want: @chefjamielauren.
Jamie, I totally agree with you on your take of this weeks episode. I think the setting of the elimination challenge was kinda a joke. I think maybe they should stick with the challenges that work, (i.e. restaurant wars) and ditch the gimmicky ones. Love your blog, one of the only reasons I check this site. Keep it up!
I slept outside once in 1992, and I haven't since. It wasn't even camping, it was a campus protest for the college I was at in that first year because they were going to cut down 100+-year-old trees to build new dorms. I learned that night that I would never cut it as an outdoorsman.
I'd commented in Tom's blog that I found this episode rather ordinary as far as the elimination challenge went, but I didn't necessarily think it was because of "pedestrian" dishes. I just think they didn't think right for this going in, the chefs. It's outdoors, a ranch, and you're cooking for ranchers. You don't know what equipment you're gonna have, but really...what would you THINK you're going to have? Monogram ranges? This should have been steak and pork and BBQ coming out of our ears, but instead it was seventeen ceviches and a coconut mojito. No wonder Tom spit out his food. I would bet after this day wrapped the cast went to the Grand Lux at Palazzo and dropped about $300, and that's not even including the bar.
Great blog, as always. I too was cheering for Ashley and Laurine at the Winner’s Table. Call me vindictive but imho Mattin had to go. I mean, really, his food literally made Tim Love ill. I’ll admit, I enjoyed seeing him go after his throwing Ashley under the bus last week. And something about him reminded me of Stefan’s overblown ego.
On a happier note, I also liked the sidestories they also wove in (I guess to cover-up the simplicity of the dishes). Ashley’s newfound aunthood, her growing up on foodstamps, and Kevin’s skill at horseshoes. Imho, part of my decision making process for choosing a celebrity restaurant is what the person is all about.
I saw the lukewarm Chow review on Stefan’s LA restaurant, and passed on a visit. When is Absinthe - LA opening? heh
Jamie, thanks for blogging. It's great to see a former contestant's take on the "festivities." Re the judges reaction to Robin's shrimp - did they say it tasted like "chlorine," or "flooring?" I couldn't tell...even native English speakers sometimes need subtitles!
Great to see you back here, Jamie! I can't understand Ron, either. And those tepees looked TINY ... I couldn't imagine how they all got a good night's sleep before the stress of a challenge in that environment.
Curious, though, what exactly makes shrimp taste like chlorine? Is it something inherent in the shrimp or a cooking problem? I had thought the chlorine comment would be from Mattin using water from the ranch spigot instead of bottled water as someone else was shown doing.
Love your blog - keep up the great work! I wish I could come to SF :)
First, congrats on beating Hosea and winning at the tomato fest!
Agree with you that Michael seemed to be shaken by being on the bottom during the quickfire. We'll see if he can bounce back. His food (and Kevin's) is more interesting than Bryan's, but Bryan is so consistent and is going more down the middle in terms of flavor profiles. Based on the QF, the chefs had some clues as to Tim Love's palate. Yes, he's only the guest judge, but I'm not sure if I'd cook a dashi for him and a group of cowboys. It's great that Michael has a strong sense of his own style and is reluctant to play to the audience, but I don't know if that stance will win this type of competition.
Camping? In my book, that's a hotel with fewer that four stars. Sleep outside? Not in this life.
I thought the elimination challenge was ridiculous. Perhaps, as someone commented on another blog, Top Chef has gone on one season too long.
Wow- what a great blog Jamie! Funny, entertaining, insightful - all without the standard (and very ugly) "I'm better than these guys" standard attitude of ex-TC competitor bloggers. You can cook sweetie but you may have found another calling right here.
I didn't see anything wrong with the setting, but I thought it was stupid to make the chefs sleep in teepees. How did that belong in a chefs contest????
I'll be the first one to admit I don't follow "hot" food trends closely (no pun intended) but what's with the ceviche revolution? Is it really as prevalent as these folks make it seem or is it just an easy go-to dish for the cheftestants to put together when inspiration fails?
Hi, Jamie. I'm so glad that you're the guest blogger this season. You were by far my favorite last year, and I totally think you were robbed. Your blogs are amazing; they provide a great insight into the show, and I love your writing style. I found them last night (finally) and read them right before bed. Needless to say, I had some dreams involving you and a video game called Left 4 Dead. It was...weird. Anyway... :D
I'm glad to see Laurine and, especially, Ashley step it up this week. Ashley seems like she's got an incredible talent (come on, gnocchi and homemade ricotta in 45 minutes?! That's just nuts!) that hasn't been able to come out yet because of the environment she's in. I hope she's able to bust it out now since she's gotten a taste of not being in the bottom. Plus, she's ridiculously adorable. I want to see her around longer.
Again, love your blog, and yay for not being single!! Hope you're happy with your girl. By the way, are you and Leah still friends? I really loved the friendship towards the end of your run. You two were hilarious together (stew room drunkenness, for the win)!
Personally, you were my last season's favorite, and those crazy circumstances don't "normally" come up in day-to-day work at a high-end restaurant, but I wish you luck in your endeavors. I admire your tenacity and wish you the best of luck. Cheers, mazel tov, and nazdrovya to you. If I ever make it out to your area, I would love to sample your talent personally.
i always read your blog first. love it! i miss seeing your hamburger tee shirt on TC. the tee shirts this year are boring. wow, what a better way to bring on sleep deprivation than to have to sleep in a tent with people you hardly know? forced them to have to perform with a bad nights' sleep then cook in that awful heat...how draining that must have been! mattin was a poser and i want to see mike i. create something fabulous while NOT riding the coattails of a volt brother. love kevin...he's a delightful and talented ewok!
Long-time fans here. We're a student couple in our late 20s -- hence, not very much money. At the same time, we love Top Chef and we'd love to develop our palates and sample the kind of cuisine that folks like you cook. Any tips on how we can do that while not breaking our budget?
Great comments -- please keep them coming. We're rooting for Ashley and we too sense something inauspicious for Mike V. As for Mike I, he seems to be riding on an awful lot of coattails (for example in the Thunderbirds and the French elimination challenges).
Jamie, What type of challenge would you schedule? Is there any test that would seperate the truly gifted chefs from the merely talented? I feel that some cheftestants have been riding on others coat tails during the team challenges and just muddle by during the individual challenges. Anyways, love the blog and my wife and I loved you on the show and were disappointed when you got cut. Keep the blogs coming!
Hi Jamie! I love reading your insight as a chef and as a former contestant. You said "...just watching his interviews I am getting the feeling that something bad may happen." When are these interviews filmed? Are the contestants interviewed after each challenge? Or in the middle and the end? Or something different?
You're right about camping in the desert. I grew up in the desert and we were never so dumb as to camp outdoors in the hot months. We also don't eat hot stuff outdoors in the hot months either. It's basically melons and citrus with lots of iced tea. Camping in the heat is very unsanitary due to the flies spreading everything and the nice growing temperature for bacteria. I can't imagine it's at all good to cook in those conditions. I kind of admired the chefs for not complaining about sleeping in the heat, wearing their chefs coats buttoned all the way up in the heat, and cooking rather primitively. I wonder if they were able to wash their hands as much as they should've. Did they get showers? How miserable. As to the scallops during your season, at least you cooked them. I recall chef Colicchio commenting that making ceviche wasn't cooking. I did like your reminiscence of Stefan during the trip to the farm. I can only imagine. LOL!
I thought the camping element was funny but you are correct it was a little out of place. I guess they hadn't had their cages rattled enough. I too thought Mike V. was going down in flames, but for his choice of dish which he said he would not tailor to the setting. That seemed like a disastrous mindset to have going in but obviously it did work out for him in the end.
You and Stefan were very cute together btw but I understand he's not in your romantic demographic.
Jamie, I am still loving your blog. I just have one question, why do you think that Mike I. is one of the stronger chefs? Are you seeing something through professional eyes that my amateur eyes can't see? What I see in him is someone who has latched onto the Volt Bros and only succeeded because of them. All he has done is cook cactus, everything else has been bad or mediocre, oh he did do OK with snails. I don't think he is anywhere close to the same caliber as the Volt Bros, Jen C., Kevin and Eli. This has nothing to do with his personality I liked Hong, Dale and Stefan!
Tip for scaredy-cat campers: Bring dogs camping. They'll distract any rogue bears (should they appear) and they can hear things well before you can.
Raw fish and camping go together like eggplant and ice cream. Grill things, people.
Jamie You made 3 comments about the speech of people from outside the US. I haven't had problems understanding Ron or Stefan, so might the problem be your lack of exposure to accents different from yours? I like you and don't want you coming off sounding like a bigot...be careful and a little more sensitive!